NORTHAMPTON - Retired Attorney William A. Norris, 78, a lawyer in Hampshire County from 1967 to his retirement in 2001, passed away Sunday, March 23, 2014, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
While living in Cummington, he helped raise two sons, Levin, born 1967, and Timo born 1969, and wrote articles on country life for, Up Country Magazine, published by the Berkshire Eagle. He was a country lawyer who serviced local needs in the hill towns.
His community work included 10 years on the Cummington Planning Board, and was chairman for the last five of those. At that time, the board introduced the town's first zoning by-laws. At the same time, Norris, an anti-war activist, was legal back up for the Valley Peace Center, in Amherst, during the Vietnam War
from 1967 on, and he had an active federal practice of selective service cases. He also represented anti-war demonstrators arrested locally. In three weeks of May 1972, a total of 1500 demonstrators were arrested at Westover Air Force Base, and he was the sole attorney for them. All contested cases were eventually dismissed. His work also included South African anti-apartheid efforts and representation of demonstrators against our Guatemalan policies. In 2004 (he had come out of retirement briefly) he, along with several other local lawyers, were awarded an American Civil Liberties Union award for representing anti Iraq war protesters.
After his retirement in 2001, for health reasons, Norris truly loved his volunteer work with Jo Comerford, who directed the local American Friends Service office in the struggle against the Iraq War.
In 1989, Norris became a member of the Amherst area National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch, and its lawyer, at a time when it began a protracted dispute with the Amherst public schools about the racial disparities caused by its ability grouping or tracking system. That dispute was resolved in 1993. He served as secretary of the branch for many years thereafter. In 1969, a mentor once told Norris, "find an organization you love, and then marry it." The NAACP was that organization.
Retirement freed Norris' pent up travel bug, and he went to Asia where in northern Thailand he found what became his winter home. There he met Bua, and they married in West Cummington in 2007. Since then, they have wintered in a house they designed and built, 14 kilometers north of Chiang Mai.
He leaves Bua, and his surviving son Timo, who lives in San Francisco, Calif.
A service celebrating his life will be held Saturday, March 29, at 2 p.m. at First Churches, 129 Main St., Northampton.
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